Coworking made its debut in Bend more than four years ago with BendTECH, a 50-desk bullpen ringed by 19 private offices that has become a hub of entrepreneurial activity.
In that time, BendTECH has been joined by The Wilds, a coworking space geared toward designers and other creative professionals on SW Century Drive, and Oregon State University-Cascades’ Innovation Co-Lab, which offers one-on-one business coaching to startups along with the office space. Griffin Coworking opened in 2017 in east Bend’s 9th Street Village.
The Bend coworking market will take another leap forward in September with the opening of Embark, which caters to the outdoor industry, and The Haven, which promotes work-life balance with views of the Deschutes River. In terms of dedicated desks, Embark and The Haven will grow the Bend coworking market by 46%.
But desk space isn’t all that’s available. Embark, developed by the dog gear company Ruffwear inside its NorthWest Crossing headquarters, has 23 offices accommodating one to eight people. All the private offices have been leased, community manager Laura Grayson said. Embark will have 28 dedicated desks, and many of those are still available, she said.
The Haven’s 14 dedicated desks and 13 private offices are leased, but the coworking space is still selling flexible memberships, director Chelsea Callicott said.
The Haven has set aside 7,000 square feet of its leased space for people with flexible memberships, which will be capped at 200.
Meanwhile, BendTECH, a nonprofit, plans to open a second location later this year in District 2, a growing NorthWest Crossing office park, Executive Director Amanda Krantz said. BendTECH will occupy 4,000 square feet next to Five Talent, a software consulting firm.
Coworking still represents a sliver of the office real estate market nationwide, but it’s growing quickly, according to a 2018 report by Colliers International. Flexible workspace represented 1.1% of all office inventory in 19 major metropolitan areas, but it accounted for 31.3% of inventory growth between 2016 and the middle of 2018.
It’s impossible to measure the vacancy rate of individual desks and offices in coworking spaces, said Howard Friedman, partner and principal broker at Compass Commercial Real Estate Services in Bend. The spaces are typically leased from the building owner by a coworking provider, such as The Haven or BendTECH, and then subleased to dozens of short-term tenants.
Bend had more than 2.6 million square feet of office in 206 buildings with a 3% vacancy rate, at the end of the first quarter, according to Compass.
While big cities have drawn national coworking providers like WeWork, Regus and Knotel, Bend’s coworking scene arose out of grassroots efforts. The BendTECH coworking space was created by a nonprofit that formed around the city’s emerging startup software industry.
Embark is a for-profit enterprise, but Ruffwear President Will Blount said, “We’re not developers. We didn’t do this as a market opportunity.”
Ruffwear wanted to bring outdoor companies and other professionals serving the industry under one roof, partly to give back to the local industry and partly to foster collaboration and creativity within Ruffwear, he said.
The company is spending an undisclosed amount to remodel its headquarters building to house Embark. The project involved creating a second floor across a former warehouse area, and then building out the coworking office space, a ground-floor retail space and a new commons, which will be shared by Ruffwear employees and Embark members.
The bicycle shop Crow’s Feet Commons, currently downtown, and a new gym will move into the retail space in November, Blount said. Ruffwear employees are already using the coffee bar and seating area, where 50-pound weighted bags offer a place to tie down canine officemates.
Coworking is often pitched as an alternative to the isolation of a home office, or the transience and unreliability of coffee shops. The Bend area has one of the highest rates of telecommuting in the nation, and many coworking tenants come from home offices.
But at least one of Embark’s future tenants, Blue Star Press, will be moving out of a traditional office, co-founder Peter Licalzi said. The company considered finding an office that it could grow into over time, but he said, “It’s important to have a good work culture and atmosphere. It’s hard to build that in an isolated office with three to five people.”
Even though Blue Star isn’t an outdoor company, Licalzi said he’s most looking forward to the presence of other professionals, who can share advice on topics like digital advertising.
“It’s a little like adding company scale and knowledge to your business without actually having it,” said Austin Britts, co-founder of Zealios, which makes body and hair care products for endurance athletes. The company will take a six-person office at Embark.
Embark is so focused on creating a stable community, it’s not offering any flexible memberships at this point, Grayson said. But flexible memberships are a big part of the business model at The Haven.
Many of The Haven’s members are professionals who have permanent offices but are looking for a place to get away from the usual interruptions, Callicott said.
About 70% of the membership is women from a variety of industries and professions. In addition to two daily yoga classes, The Haven will put on programs that cover professional and personal development, she said.
Adam Krynicki, executive director of the Innovation Co-Lab at OSU-Cascades, thinks Bend will see more coworking spaces added to the market.
He noted that there’s even an online network, LiquidSpace, which helps businesses with excess office space convert it to flexible space for startups and small businesses.
“Some people just want space; some people want services; some people want community,” he said. “It’s going to be a vast array of options.”
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